The Tweedy, Browne Funds produced modestly positive returns in the 4th quarter of 2015, capping off what was in general a rather difficult year for value investors. Each Fund’s cash reserves, low weightings in Japan and the U.S., oil & gas component, and overall value exposure weighed on relative returns. The spread between the value and growth components of the benchmark indices widened considerably in favor of growth during the year. In fact, the so called “FANG” stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google), which, in our view, trade at exorbitant multiples of earnings power, accounted for about half the return of the MSCI World Index when measured in local currencies. While this kind of divergence is not at all uncommon in the later stages of a bull market as equity valuations become untethered from underlying intrinsic value, it’s hard to recall a previous period when the so called “smart money” seemed so dumb.
It is not surprising, as market volatility increased in the second half of the year, that the food, beverage, and tobacco component of our Fund portfolios produced the strongest returns. This included strong results for the quarter in Unilever, Philip Morris International (NYSE:PM), and Heineken, with the latter’s strength largely related to the derivative impact of the proposed InBev/SAB Miller deal on beer company valuations. The healthcare segment of the portfolio also stood out, with solid results in Baxalta (NYSE:BXLT), the spinoff from Baxter, which announced shortly after quarter end that it would be acquired by Shire (NASDAQ:SHPG) at a substantial premium. Its former parent, Baxter International, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, and Roche also produced very nice returns during the quarter. We also had very solid returns in several of our insurance holdings including SCOR, Zurich Insurance Group and Munich Re. Continue Reading »